Delhi government announces stringent measures to cut traffic volumes and eliminate emissions - CSE welcomes the decisions
These measures promise to catalyse change needed to bend the curve of ever rising air pollution levels in the city and prevent premature deaths and illness.
The action agenda announced by the Delhi government includes personal vehicles bearing odd and even registration numbers to ply on alternate days from January 1, 2016 – in other words, allowing only half of the existing fleet to operate in a day. Emergency services and public transport will not be under the ambit of the restriction.
The government will shut down the Badarpur power plant in the city and also take action on the Dadri power plant. It will make Euro VI emissions standards mandatory from 2017. Entry of trucks will be delayed to 11 pm. Massive plantation drive will be undertaken along all arterial roads across the city to curb spread of dust. From April 1, vacuum cleaning of roads by the Public Works Department will be ensured. The government will also launch a web-based app which will report about polluting vehicles in the capital.
CSE, while welcoming this move, has also urged the Delhi government to detail out an effective implementation strategy and organise public outreach for glitch-free implementation. Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy and head of its air pollution control unit: “Alarming trends in air pollution levels in the capital city and its devastating impacts on public health have made the city desperate for urgent solutions. Such choking peak levels demand aggressive and drastic immediate measures. Small incremental steps will not help. If the public demand for clean air has merited this action, this needs even stronger public support to make it work as well. The city has little choice when there is at least one death per hour due to air pollution related diseases and the lung of every third child is impaired.”
Why these moves will help Delhi?
Halving the traffic volume and cutting out coal power emissions will have significant impact on pollution: Already, the draft report on source apportionment submitted by the IIT Kanpur to Delhi Government has shown that vehicles are the second largest emitter followed by industry and power plant. More analysis from CSE shows that of the total particulate pollution load from vehicles in the city the personal vehicle segments – cars and two wheelers – are responsible for 87 per cent of the load. This is getting worse with increasing number of diesel vehicles. Compared to petrol cars particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars is 7 to 5 times higher. Increase in diesel use in cars is also increasing lung cancer risk in the city.
Moreover, CSE analysis of pollution levels on national holidays when traffic volume reduces significantly in Delhi has also demonstrated substantial reduction in pollution levels. For example on October 22 when Dusserah holidays and car free event had led to drastic reduction in traffic volume in the city there was nearly 45 per cent reduction in PM2.5 levels in the city.
Similarly, Badarpur power station not only belches enormous particulate but also other toxic gases including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and toxic mercury. In fact CSE’s rating of power plants in India has shown Badarpur plant is one of the most inefficient and polluting plants in the country saddled with old technology.
Bringing forward Euro VI emissions standards will lower pollution impacts of motorization drastically as a time when the city is adding more than 1400 vehicles a day. These measures will go a long way in bringing down the peak pollution levels in the city.
The strategy of odd and even number plates for alternate days is the first generation car restraint measures practiced globally especially during smog episodes: Delhi needs urgent steps to reduce traffic volume on the road. Several cities around the world including Beijing, Mexico city, Bogota, Sao Paolo, Santiago, Paris have implemented this measures and have demonstrated pollution reduction. The next generation restraints include congestion charging and road pricing like the systems that have been introduced in London, Stockholm, and Singapore. This measure in Delhi will not only encourage people to opt for public transport, walking and cycling but also optimize car use through car pooling and by cutting down unnecessary car trips. This will help to reduce vehicle miles travelled and pollution.
Though some have raised concerns about the implementation challenges in terms of people purchasing another vehicle to have both odd and even number plates or get away with a fake license plate, it is possible to curb that with enforcement and additional measures of parking restraints, and high annual taxation on cars. While rolling out the pilot programme the government should simultaneously enforce these other measures to make car ownership and usage more expensive in the city. It may be noted car users are still the minority in the city. Majority of Delhi’s youth, women and elderly use public transport, walk and cycle.
Removing cars and two-wheelers will free up space for more efficient deployment of public transport: Even during peak hours, a car carries only 1.5 persons as opposed to a bus carrying 60-70 people. Two cars occupy same space as one bus, but carry 20 times less people. If this trend continues the capacity of roads to carry more people will reduce drastically. Less cars on roads will allow buses to move more freely and efficiently with good frequency.
A CSE review has already shown how bus routes have been curtailed in many areas over the years because of congestion and poor turning radius caused by car centric road design like signal free corridors. This is extremely worrying when Delhi will have to move more than 25 million trips a day by 2020. Delhi might have the most extensive road network at 22 per cent of its geographical area, but it is saturated and severely choked with vehicles. In some of the prominent arteries cars are more than half to close to 70 per cent of the total traffic -- but they carry only 17-20 per cent of the travel trips. This makes bus transport that carries more people inefficient.
Delhi has no other choice but to curb traffic for clean air: It is unsustainable for Delhi -- that already has 8.8 million vehicles, to add more than 1400 vehicles a day. Only in one year between 2013-14 and 2014-15 vehicle registration has increased 14 per cent. More than 1.25 lakh cars have been registered in Delhi in one year. Delhi has more vehicles than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai put together. At the current level of average new car registration ad day Delhi has already added close to 500 cars today even when celebrating car free day. The latest Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-15 has shown that the number of cars has increased 2.7 times in 15 years. This is making enormous demand for road space and parking space that the city cannot satisfy any more. Vehicles contribute enormously to direct exposure to toxic fumes.
Globally cities have adopted restraints on car use on daily basis with odd and even number strategy, parking policy for restraint, congestion and road pricing, capping of cars, restricting cars in congested and low emissions zones to fight pollution, congestion and energy guzzling.